This is the scene that returns to memory each year at this time, along with the dreadful sense of loneliness and loss, the desperate effort to hold back the forbidden tears. The anticipation of months of baiting and belittling, the teasing that provokes me, always, into that uncontrollable rage my fellow schoolboys delight in seeing erupt. The sense of abandonment by my parents, the unbridgeable distance between school and home.
It's back to school time. The end of the blessed release and protection of the holidays, and nothing but a whole year looming ahead with the prospect of only two brief breaks, Christmas and Easter, back at home. I always had the sense of standing at the edge of a bleak, bottomless abyss of time, with not the tiniest hope of remission or reprieve. A vast emptiness inside, a dread consuming body, mind and soul.
And so it is today, each year, nearly seventy years later, as August leads into September, that sense of dread returns with seasonal inevitability. Tonight, here in Southern California, the art world--my long-time professional milieu--gathers ritually once again at a great, communal opening event to renew its cycle. Tomorrow is the last day of the summer's stay at our Laguna Beach cottage. On Sunday, we drive back to Los Angeles.
I have, of course, nothing more to dread. On the contrary, I have much to look forward to. I'm not particularly active in the art world any more, and have certainly no obligations, no deadlines other than those I impose upon myself. Next Thursday, we leave on a trans-Atlantic flight to London, where we'll spend two weeks visiting family--our son and daughter-in-law and their three children, our grandchildren; and my sister in the Cotswolds. Then back to New York for a few days trekking around the museums and galleries, and likely taking in a concert or a show. Not too shabby, then. Not to be dreaded. But knowing this does not prevent the feeling from returning.
These days, though, I have a way back home. It's called the breath. I sat this morning, watching the body's rise and fall. It takes a while to get past the wandering thoughts, all those tired old memories and the feelings they arouse. But then, yes, once I manage to leave them behind, it's like coming home to a comfortable and familiar place, where the pain and power of old wounds recede, giving way to a marvelously peaceful sense of liberation.
In this way I remind myself that I have no need to return to school this year. I'm perfectly content to stay here at home.